Saturday, June 29, 2013

Why Visit a Mall in Istanbul?

Last night, I took the tram, funicular, and subway to Istanbul Cevahir Shopping Mall, north of the city center in Istanbul.  You might be wondering why, in a city with layers of history, culture, and commercial enterprise, one would take the time to visit a shopping mall.  However, it has been my experience in countries as diverse as China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and South Africa, that the development and success of large shopping centers showcases so very much about the patterns of economic and social development in nations around the world.

In particular, as nations begin to establish a growing middle class, these large shopping centers seem to spring to life.  They are fuel by the growth in disposable income and desire to acquire products that are promoted and advertised as a part of the global campaigns of huge multi-national companies.  In a nutshell, there may be no better place to witness the power of a globalized economic web than in the shopping malls of developing and middle income nations.

Istabul Cevahir is a six-story mall just a few stops north of Taksim Square in Istanbul.  Each floor is centered around a soaring atrium that sports a massive 3, 6, 9, and 12 on the ceiling.  Even from the lowest level of the mall, one can look up at these numbers and determine that these strange numbers represent a clock face.  Many of the floors have small food stands interspersed throughout the common spaces of the mall, but floors five and six house the majority of the restaurants and food vendors.  I must admit that I have never seen a more interesting combination of Turkey-based restaurants and larger American or global chain restaurants.  While not uncommon to see Starbuck's, McDonald's, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken around the world, I was surprised to see Krispy Kreme, Sbarro, Popeyes Chicken, and Carl's Junior.

In terms of shopping, this mall had it all from major home appliances to clothing of nearly every brand imaginable.  It included team shops for the three most prominent professional soccer clubs in Istanbul.  It also featured advertising promoting items that would help to "complete" the perfect middle class lifestyle or even promise elevation in status.  All-in-all, it was a very interesting visit that seems to reflect the economic indicators that Turkey's economy has moved millions into a middle class that participates fully in a global consumer society.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Walk Around Sultanahmet

Here's the route for our afternoon excursions throughout the Old City.  This morning, we listened to some remarks about Greek influence, Roman control, and the Byzantine transition of the city that has once been called Byzantion, Constantinople, and now, Istanbul.  After lunch, we visited the vast Basilica Cisterns (a vital source of water within the ancient walls of the city), the Hippodrome (home of an Egyptian obelisk and Greek statue commemorating victory over the Persians at Platea), and a small mosque that was originally built as a church during the reign of Justinian prior to his greatest project---The Hagia Sophia.  Tomorrow, we will enter the doors of this amazing structure built 1500 years ago!

Finally, here's a picture of the moon rising behind the Blue Mosque.  The moon is currently about a large in the sky as it will be for entire year, so it was quite impressive as it emerged from Asian side of the Bosphorus!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Arrival in Istanbul!

View from hotel terrace in Sultanahmet of the Hagia Sophia,
the Blue Mosque, and the Bosphorus Strait.

I've now been in Istanbul for just under twelve hours, which probably means its time to get some sleep for the beginning of our NEH program tomorrow.  Not exactly an extensive list of key insights from a few quick forays out into the city, but I have had the chance to get a sense of the neighborhood.  The area that I am staying in is called Sultanahmet, which is the Old City of Istanbul.  This was the Constantinople of Justinian and the imperial Istanbul of the Ottomans.  In the photo posted above, the space between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque is basically the location of the Roman Hippodrome, home of legendary chariot races.

As one would expect, the Old City is a true labyrinth of narrow streets, small mosques, small restaurants and tea shops, and souvenir stands.  This is an area of the city heavily visited by tourists, many from other countries within the larger Middle East.  However, despite the crowds near the museums, churches, and mosques, all one has to do is turn into a narrow street or alley to feel as one is stepping out of the 21st century into the Ottoman imperial era.

Tomorrow, our program begins, and we will be stepping back even farther...the era of Constantine and the founding of his city...if only he could see this colossal urban space spanning Europe and Asia today!